Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Madness of Humble House

This was originally published as a chapbook some six or seven years ago before being mailed to a collection of friends. The chapbook had the added advantage of being illustrated by David Vigor's excellent artwork. Here it is again, without said artwork, having been edited and amended. It owes a lot to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and of H. P. Lovecraft. Enjoy.

Image from 'Game of Thrones' wallpaper download.

The hour was dark and defined by the contours of shade that fell on the wall. Ivy crept with hungry fingers along the crumbling brickwork. A secret drone of clawed insects primed the night air, alerting only a few birds to their devious presence. A cicada sang its brackish song. A clock spoke in metallic tones. A slight breeze shifted the weight of the humble flowers that sat silent and quivering in their broken pots. Somewhere far off a vixen called to her kits while her mate went looking for food. The night was still warm, sultry even, with a scent of Jasmine that drifted with subtle colours. High up, the moon gazed down with apparent envy on the blue world that lay before her jewelled kingdom. Without a shred of doubt, a shift had occurred somewhere in the fabric of reality, an informal change that was unmarked and unseen but still existed, invisible to the naked eye.
The large dog lifted its head, sniffing longingly at the potent smell. The scent drifted in on the air current from below the door. The dog slipped his tongue out and licked its nose; then it dropped its head back between his paws and closed its eyes. If dogs have the power to imagine, this dog’s dreams were a mass of creativity.  Beyond the dog and beyond the shut door that stood in front of the sleeping canine was a garden. It was shaped by a border of box that laid order to the range of wildflowers that grew in a disarray of colour, a tangle of leaves and growing shoots. The night defeated any spectrum, making all colour seem as though it were a shade of silver. The grass moved with a sibilant sigh, a trickery of the wind.
Inside the house, the only sounds apart from the dog’s heavy breathing and the clock’s ticking were those made by the wooden flooring as the building settled down by releasing the heat from its rooms, a creaking of wooden beams that punctured the darkness with a startled wheeze. Upstairs in their rooms, two children slept: a girl with tight brown curls, and her younger brother, whose thumb, still damp from sucking, lay on the bedspread. The stairs heaved a moan. Invisible feet, wet from the dew, sketched moist abstract shapes, little puddles that reflected the moon’s gaze as a bent, misshapen mass. In their rooms the boy stirred, the girl slept on. Whatever dreams they chased down corridors grim and grey or over fields filled with wild poppies are not for us to know, as their dreams are their own, but the silent feet pad on; relentless and without conscience; stealthily they walked with an absence of sound, unheard by human ear and unseen by human eye. The walls, if they had voices to cry out would say with trembling voices: do not touch us with your unclean hands, but the walls are just like the feet that walk: silent.
The little boy’s eyes flickered as his lips parted and he mouthed a name. It was the name of a friend who drowned one year ago. The accident happened while the two boys were playing on the lake in an old boat that rolled about the shore. The friend was Peter, and it was he who had suggested that they play as pirates, buccaneers and seafaring rapscallions joined together by blood and oaths. The boys had laughed like drains while the boat rocked. High above, seagulls flew, echoing the boys’ laughter with their own raucous cries, while in a tree an old crow watched. In the crow’s eyes, the wisdom of the universe spun in dusty fragments, splinters of broken knowledge forever lost to man and all his machinations, but not to the simple souls of nature’s first design.
The boat rocked and the boys giggled. Their sound was a bell that chimed and peeled with delight, but sometimes a bell can also sound a warning that the young misunderstand as the sound of joy when in fact it is the sound of danger.
The boy had one remaining memory of his lost friend, and that was as he watched his pale face slip away beneath the dark waters. He reached out in hopeless desperation as his friend slowly sank lower and all the boy could do was watch. Watch as the finger-like weeds wrapped their cloying hands around his friend’s face; watch as the last few bubbles of air left his circled O of a mouth, left his aching lungs to burst like dreams on the surface of the lake.
The boy, disturbed by his dream, shivered in his sleep. His hand shifted from above the bedclothes and slunk beneath the covers with a hurried motion. He made a whimpering sound and sank his head under the coverlet. Funny how a bedcover can offer such protection to a sleeping child. The boy’s dream moved on, and he found himself running down a street with gas-lit lamps that created a halo of watery light. Around the glass mantles, small insects droned on fragile wings as they orbited the lamps; the sound of their flight was a high-pitched whine, as of an insane violin played in a house of madmen.
The boy watched fascinated as the insects whirled and spun; then, as if on a whim, a dark cloud came from the houses that were strung out along the street, a gathering of crones around a cauldron. The cloud moved on sullen, leathery wings and then became visible as a collection of bats. The bats swarmed around the insects with a hunger of mouths that opened red and wide, swallowing the flying gnats in greedy gulps. The boy felt a rage of tormented hurt as the bats consumed the beautiful insects. He tried to shout out but found that his lips were sealed shut and when he tried to run his hand over his mouth he found that his mouth was no longer there. Fear gripped his soul, running icy nails into his heart. He turned and ran.
In his bed he kicked the covers back, his legs making dislocated movements as if performing a mime. His hands curled into balled fists and his face contorted. In his dream, he found the street had run out of cobblestones and was now a field of verdant grass. Poppies grew in heavy, red profusion; they dragged the air down with a cloying scent. Beyond the rush of red, a tall tree stood, a double oak, and hidden in its shade a shape stood awaiting.
It is said that a double oak only grows were a gypsy child has died and been buried, for when the child of a Romany departs this world the parents place two acorns in the child’s hands, one in the left and one in the right, so that the child will return as a powerful tree and forever live on. This double oak was old, venerable and stout. It's twisted boughs threw themselves over the ground forming an area of dark shade. Below the tree, the ground was grass free and the soil was of the deepest brown. A scattering of wind-blown leaves lay like promises on the floor, fading from rich green to a pale yellow.
The shape beneath the tree lifted its arm and beckoned to the boy. A warm wind tousled his hair. He felt no fear, only a mild interest, as though he should be able to recognise this person if only he moved closer. He took a tentative step forward, holding his breath in anticipation, and then he stopped. The shape had moved and was now further back. The tree covered the sky above the shape’s head, a canopy of hovering branches. Again the figure held its arm aloft and beckoned to the boy. Again he moved forward and again the figure moved further away, but each time he did this the tree seemed to offer the same protection and from the same perspective. The boy was now certain that he knew the shape, but still couldn’t put a name to the figure, when it started to rain, and as the heavens opened and the rain fell in heavy droplets so the figure began to melt.
The girl was dreaming too, dreams of sunlight on dappled lawns, dreams of mown grass that smelt of forbidden deeds. In her dream she was gazing out of a lofty window, watching a muscled young man cut the grass with an antique machine. Sweat dripped off his body as he strode back and forth in regular lines. She watched as he first mowed the outer edges, leaving a thick line surrounding the inner core of lawn. Then, once the edges were neatly shorn, he proceeded to cut a series of evenly spaced lines that silvered and glistened. There was something very elegant about the perfectly matching stripes, something that grew out of their uniform, symmetrical design. The young man’s body was carved alabaster: white and toned, coated in a moist sheen of sweat. The hairs on his stomach formed a single line as though they were an arrowhead whose tip pointed upward while the shaft grew from his mossy crutch. Her mind’s eye could see his manhood circled and huddled in the nest of pubic hair, and she imagined blowing upon it just to see if it would stir.
She continued to observe as the thick lines grew with military precision. Beyond the lawn and the hedge, heavy with trimmed box, the girl could see the family graveyard, where an aged crow sat glowering from a headstone. It looked a thoughtful bird, with bright button- black eyes that sparkled with a keen intelligence. In its beak, it held a thick slug. It threw its head back, opened the cruel beak and swallowed the slug whole. Then it flapped its wings three times, defecated and cawed loudly. Somewhere far off a reciprocating crow cawed back. It was a language spoken with alien syllables as strange and unknowable as life after death. The bird turned its head around, casting its dark gaze hither and thither as if searching for something or someone. It cocked its head to one side, appearing to listen to the wind as it sighed and moaned. The trees shivered, and the bird looked straight at her, its penetrating stare boring deep into her eyes, then down into her soul. She felt exposed, naked. The eyes of the crow were deepdistant galaxies that folded out within the bird’s stare. Worlds beyond comprehension orbited black suns that spun the fortunes and affairs of creatures of unimaginable creation, creatures as different from humans as humans are from beetles.
A sound startled her; it was the sound of a gunshot that came from her far right. When the echoes of the blast died down, she turned again to look at the bird, but it had gone, taking its primordial gaze with it. Frustrated at having missed the crow’s departure, she looked again at the man cutting the lawn. The sweat from his brow was gathered on the edge of his nose. It was a large nose, hooked and bulbous, pockmarked and pitted. It looked as if it had at one time been the plaything of a mischievous cat, so deep and sore were the scars. It was then that she noticed the young man was not what he seemed at all. It was as if a vague mist had been lifted from her eyes, and the girl saw for the first time the true image of the man she lusted for, a man in the late winter of his life, an old man, humble and hunched where the cares of life and living it had taken their toll on his ageing frame. A coarse growth of hair, balding in patches, stood up from his scalp like the grinning stalks of bearded barley that swooned in the summer sun. A stain of whiskers clung to his chin, running ragged over his ravaged features, which bore the hallmarks of his creeping age. Hair bleached of colour grew in tufts of grey and ginger. His ears were globules of gristle that swung pendulum heavy and hoary.
She gasped as the old man looked up at her. His grizzled glare fell upon her. It was a frightful look, and she felt her insides quiver with molten fear while his boring eyes looked deep into her soul searching for the core of her being. His eyes were black, as black as the bile from the gut of Satan; brooding like the eyes of the crow, and like the crow’s eyes his radiated a nebulous mist that spun the ages into an eternity of stars and suns blinking a profusion of light. She found she could not look away, but felt drawn into the depth of those eyes. It was an act of falling as if into an abyss, but as she looked with horror and fear, she felt that the abyss was somehow looking back into her.
The old man wiped snot from his nose with the back of his hand and turned away. From the gates of the graveyard, the girl heard the sound of the crow, and following the source of the sound, she saw the bird again. It looked like a holy cleric dressed in black robes.
 Inside the house, the dog too lay dreaming, but not of bones or cats. It dreamt of raw flesh between its jaws, red meat, uncooked and bloody. Of gristle and tongue as fresh as the kill that had died only minutes before. The dog had chased its prey with snarling throat and with fangs bared while saliva flew from his snapping teeth in drops of elastic spittle.
The boy had run as though his life depended on it, as it truly did, but no matter how fast the boy ran, the dog was faster. The boy had finally given up and tried to take cover and hide behind the back of a sofa, but the dog grunted, plunging his savage maw hard behind the sofa, pushing his shoulders between it and the wall to gain access to the boy. With nowhere else to hide, the boy, trembling with fear, scurried back shoving himself into an impossible position, but the dog was remorseless. It took hold of the boy’s ankle, and even though the child kicked with all his might, it was not sufficient to prevent the dog from taking a firm grip on his leg. The dog, still growling with a fury borne of blind hate, shook the boy’s leg as if it were a rag from the refuse bin. There was a terrible rending sound as flesh parted from bone, accompanied by the shrill screams of the boy whose leg has just been torn away from his shin. Still the child tried to escape. Hands turned to desperate claws, he attempted to drag himself away from the nightmare beast that was eating his leg, but the dog pounced again, this time onto the boy’s back sinking his ravenous teeth into the infant’s succulent neck, and with one mighty snap of his jaws broke it.
Now the dog lay chewing the corpse. There was blood on his snout, and bits of skin hung from his teeth. It was a good dream, far better than the ones he so often had of rats and squirrels.
Then the dream changed and he was being stroked by the girl. She petted him behind his ears, sending exquisite sensations coursing through his frame. He rolled over, and she rubbed his belly, her hands circling around his chest and the concave area of his stomach. Her breathing altered slightly as her fingers touched his scrotum. The dog’s eyes closed in pure pleasure before she again ran her hand over his flanks. The tip of his garishly pink penis thrust its way out of the protective sheath. She patted his head, then moved away, her nightdress billowing out around her sending the scent of her wafting down to the canine’s nostrils. The dog stood up with its head in her gown and sniffed her anus. She turned to admonish him and as she did so he licked at her crotch. She giggled but still tapped him on his nose. “Naughty!” she cried. Again the dog thrust his head beneath the skirts of her shift, but this time, she was quicker, turning and running up the stair.
The girl went into the bedroom where she locked the door. The dog sat down outside with his head cocked to one side. The corridor was littered with the tiny bones of small rodents, a white blanket of brittle white. Inside the room, the dog could hear a soft noise. He lifted his nose to the scent the air, his penis now erect. The dog shoved his snout to the gap below the door and whined, scratching with his paws at the floor and then the door, but the girl ignored him. From the painting that hung by her door, a portrait of some long-dead family member, a centipede crawled out. It moved along the wall, its body twisting and curling like a belly dancer. The dog watched the insect. It growled a low bass thrum that came from its chest. The centipede turned away, moving back up the wall to where a cobweb lay across the divide.
The crow sat on the rusted graveyard gate. The warm rain had started to fall in large drops that covered the grey stones with dark leopard spots. The tree shuddered as the wind blew upon it. This was the time; the time for sleep and for dreaming; a time when the real concerns of everyday life melded with the immaterial, amorphous dream world. Dogs sat grinning while restless rodents ran free like beggars on the street. Insects gathered in droves to bear witness to the fragile nature of man. Ivy clawed at common brickwork, chewing masonry to dust. Tangled water weeds wrapped vengeful fingers around chalk-white throats. Girls dreamt of the unknown and of flesh parting to flesh. The wind held no secrets, but whispered wormwood words that flew into broken windows, rattling token casements and frail fabric.
In his bed, the boy smiled, still sleeping. His lips wrapped around his wrinkled thumb, his mouth making tiny slurping sounds. His dreams had fled him, and now he slept on cloudless cotton skies. Tomorrow would find him a little older than he was today but no wiser, for wisdom doesn’t always arrive with age. Tomorrow would dawn as though it was the first day of his life, and in many ways, it would be. Outside his door, the morning would find no evidence of the wet footprints that now lay drying. All signs of such mystery would be gone the way of dreams.
The dog lies on its side, its tongue lolling out of its deadpan mouth. Not a muscle moves beneath its taupe skin. The wooden floors of the house have settled down. No more creaks or moans can be heard. The only sound now is the stillness of deep night falling like a heavy draped shroud over buildings and woodland alike.
The crow stands, as regal as a pope, atop the roof of the house. Below it the world sits still, framed by silence. The crow nods its head as it recalls some fact or fiction that appeals to its corvine memory. The haunting of the night is now nothing more than a myth that floats on midnight breezes.
In the house, the girl’s bedroom door is shut. In her room, the girl lies on her back. One arm is raised at the crook of the elbow while her hand falls forward and hangs over her chest. Her cover is thrown back, and her legs are twisted into an ungainly pose with her feet pointing at each other. Her nightgown is pulled up to above her knees and has a slight tear along one seam. Her other arm, the left limb, is thrown out and away from her with the palm of her hand uppermost. Her palm is pale and her fingers curled. At her throat, a tiny crucifix lies where the chain has moved up her neck. The curve of her throat reveals a large vein that sits like a purple thread on her skin of virgin white. Her face has the placid look of someone who has little or no concerns but knows that life is full of unknown surprises. Her mouth has dropped open so that a thin line of blood snakes out and over her lips. Her eyes are open. They stare sightlessly at the ceiling.
Outside the crow nods. Eyes shut tight, it rolls into fields of dream where carrion fowl no longer wait for death like the harbingers of Hades or the plenipotentiaries of Morpheus, for here, in this reality, crows merely observe.

2 comments:

Sheridan said...

I've been following your writing for eleven..maybe twelve years. I'm as captivated as ever. Through your blogs Ive come to know some beautiful poets, storytellers and genuine souls but you will always be my favourite. I was Raven when you invited me to join the dark angels..age 15 I think. as I approach my 27th birthday I'm as humbled as ever to be able to read your every word. keep up the good work.

<3
:)

Russell Duffy said...

Hi! So good to hear from you after so long. Really pleased to know you are sill 'out there.' Thanks for the nice words. Yes, I remember Raven.